Russian 'democrats' long for a dictator

Wednesday, December 11, 1991

By Irina Glushchenko

MOSCOW — Readers of the November 28 edition of the Moscow daily Independent Newspaper could have been excused for feeling puzzled. There in the pages of the newspaper — which bills itself as the leading mouthpiece of enlightened, democratic opinion in Russia — was a large article entitled: "A Strengthening of Authoritarianism — the Best Variant".

As they worked through the article, many readers would have sensed that they had heard its arguments before somewhere. The culminating passage ran as follows:

"If [President Boris] Yeltsin decides to proceed to a rapid authoritarian modernisation ... involving the unconditional retention of the integrity of Russia, an orientation to its national and Christian revival and strict guarantees of the rights of Russians living outside its borders; if he has the courage to implement harsh, unpopular measures both inside Russia and outside it ... then he will be assured of the support of the majority, and fascism will not eventuate."(!)

Tracts of this kind are becoming commonplace in Russia as Yeltsin and his supporters gear up to introduce their economic "reform" program. Much of what passes for political analysis in today's Moscow press consists of panegyrics to Yeltsin and his "courage" in projecting attacks on the rights and living standards of the population. A few examples will illustrate:

"Yeltsin is incontestably the boldest of our political leaders", asserted L. Radzikovsky in Literaturnaya Gazeta on October 30. "While not quite uttering the words 'state of emergency', Yeltsin has taken a major step toward authoritarian rule ... Yeltsin is concentrating complete authority in his own hands ... But the main danger for Yeltsin, of course, is not that the democrats will oppose him in this. The problem is with the people, who might be content today with the fact that the property-owner has reappeared in our society, but who tomorrow are going to be hit by new prices and unemployment."

In the same issue, M. Loginov observed:

"According to the most modest estimates, we can expect price rises of 200 to 300%. The numbers of jobless and poor will rise. The number of enterprises that go bankrupt will run into the hundreds, and perhaps thousands. There will be a sharp cut in budget expenditures, interest rates will rise, and there will be new taxes ... The government therefore has to be able to stand up to the pressure of the population, whose discontent will inevitably make itself felt in strikes and in more extreme forms of social protest."

And what have our western friends to say? They are virtually unanimous. For example, H. Balzer, director of the Russian Studies Centre of Georgetown University in Washington, argues that "in a context of economic crisis and in the absence of the structures of democracy, a strong leader is indispensable". (Izvestia 12 November 1991). Meanwhile, Washington Post correspondent Michael the near future demonstrations and strikes will begin, and contends that "in such circumstances the sole hope is a strong government". (Arguments and Facts No. 43).

So, after ending totalitarianism and making a "democratic revolution", we Russians are now being called upon to surrender our rights and freedoms so that an elected autocrat can give us a thorough drubbing. We have it on the authority of the democratic press and of western capital itself: it's for our own good.

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